Happy new year! One of my new year’s traditions is to begin the year with at least 100 species on January 1st, so yesterday I set out before dawn to Fort George Island where a calling Eastern Screech-Owl was my first species for 2017. I usually do a series of short stationary counts around the island when owling, and by my third stop which was outside the Kingsley Plantation entrance I was shocked to have an Eastern Whip-poor-will fly right past me! Two stops later down Palmetto Road, and I was treated to at least two fairly vocal Whips! The species is not unheard of here in winter, but is significantly rare this time of year, and seldom in partial song like that. What an astounding way to begin the year!
At dawn I met up with Dave, Jeff G, and Candice at Perdue Pond Wildlife Area to begin our day in earnest, and we had a great mix of waterfowl there to include Redhead, American Wigeon, Gadwall, and several American Black Ducks. We swung by New Berlin Elementary and Sheffield Regional Park next, and before 8AM we already had 14 species of waterfowl on our list. We headed up to Black Hammock Island to try for the three species of marsh sparrows and actually dipped on all three! A cooperative Sedge Wren there made the effort worthwhile.
We arrived at Eastport Wastelands at 9:15AM where the group was successful in getting the White-crowned and Vesper Sparrows, but it wasn’t easy. I think the day was actually too nice – something like high 60’s and clear; I’ve always had better luck with sparrows in fouler weather conditions. Dave departed the group after Eastport, but we continued on to the Common Goldeneye Stakeout off Heckscher and then Imeson Center, followed by another stop at Sheffield for the American Pipit and Buffleheads.
It was little past lunchtime by then, so we split up and I ramped back up later in the afternoon with 7 American Avocets in the White Shell Bay area and a stop at Spoonbill Pond for various waterbirds. Another observer reported Long-billed Dowitchers mixed in with Short-billeds there earlier in the day, and I’m compelled to mention that making that distinction at that location without the birds vocalizing is a difficult proposition and shouldn’t be done just for the sake of ticking two species on a “big day”. It’s much better to use the eBird “slash combo” of Long/Short-billed Dowitcher and live to fight another day.
I finished my day at Fort George Inlet doing a seawatch and scanning Huguenot Memorial Park from the bridge. On the day I finished with a fairly meager 107 species (Marie and I got 124 last year with less effort), but considering I didn’t go west of I-95 or even across the bridge to south or west Jacksonville I’ll say it was a pretty decent total. It was great to do some birding with Jeff again and finally getting to meet Candice!